In its first ever public perception research, the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) found there is strong support from the general public for a fair and effective enforcement system.

The data and the feedback from the research, which involved a representative sample of 2,000 people across England and Wales, showed that:

  • 83% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that fair and effective enforcement is a necessary part of the justice system.
  • Almost 80% said that people and businesses who are owed money should be able to use a regulated enforcement system to recover debt from those who haven’t paid.
  • 72% thought unpaid debt would increase without fair and effective enforcement.

Vulnerability considerations, repayment plans and the ability for creditors to reclaim the amount owed in full were also all seen as important to members of the public:

  • 89% think it’s important that there are clear rules and regulations in place to protect vulnerable people and that repayment plans are offered to debtors who can’t afford to pay their debts.
  • 82% think it’s important that the person or business owed money should receive the full amount on their court order.

Government action is needed to ensure enforcement is properly funded

Alan J. Smith, Chair of the HCEOA, said: “This data shows there is strong support from the general public for a fair and effective enforcement. The good news is that there is agreement from government, the profession, and the public around shared outcomes that everyone wants, such as vulnerable debtors remaining properly supported and creditors receiving the full amount owed to them.”

“The challenge for policymakers and civil servants is to make sure that enforcement is funded properly to deliver this. We’re still awaiting the implementation of a first fee increase in ten years, with the strong likelihood of system and/or fee structure reform to go alongside it, so we’re at a critical point for the profession.”

He added: “There are three steps government can take quickly to ensure we keep a fair and effective enforcement system in England and Wales:

  • Implement its own recommended 5% increase in enforcement fees which was proposed in summer last year and will be a first fee increase in ten years.
  • Set up and deliver a regular fee review mechanism linked to inflation. The Ministry of Justice recognised the need for this last year so we’re hopeful it will be introduced soon.
  • Ensure any further reforms to the enforcement system proposed after last year’s wide-ranging consultation are carefully considered and properly funded. The 5% fee increase addresses a historical challenge, but it doesn’t create a ‘fighting fund’ to tackle new challenges.

Confidence in the system can be improved

The results also showed that while most people expressed confidence in ‘the judicial system’ to set, and enforcement agents to follow, the appropriate rules – there was a minority who don’t:

  • 69% of the public agreed there are rules and regulations in place to govern how enforcement agents operate.
  • 61% trust enforcement agents to follow the law while carrying out their work.

Alan J. Smith, Chair of the HCEOA, said: “Transparency and greater education to dispel misconceptions and bolster public trust in enforcement processes must continue to be part of our mission moving forward. Today, as a matter of course, High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) follow strict best practice and National Standards to ensure vulnerable people are adequately supported through the enforcement process.”

He added: “Moving forward, the profession has a key role to play in supporting the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Enforcement Conduct Board (ECB) as they work to shape the future of the profession and ensure that we collectively meet the public’s expectations.”

The full results of HCEOA’s research can be found at: https://www.hceoa.org.uk/campaigns/understanding-public-opinion.

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